Now Reading
A Brief History on the Origin of Wine

A Brief History on the Origin of Wine

Cristal Guiet

While you drank your last bottle of wine did you ever think about who actually discovered wine?  The grape species has a history that dates back over 67 million years but winemaking started much later.  Grapes belong to the subgenus Euvitis which is now called Vitis in the genus Vitis L which is then divided into three main species that are suitable for producing wine  –  The European species Vitis Vinifera (the only European species that survived after the Ice Age), the American species Vitis Rotundifolia and Vitis Lubrusca which are cultivated on the eastern coast of the United States (these vines produce very low sugars which results in a very light wine with a maximum ABV of 10%,  and finally the Asian species of Vitis Amurensis which can be found in Japan.  Vitis Vinifera is the most popular of the three species and is the most commonly used throughout the world as it is ideal for the successful creation of wine.

From an archaeological perspective it is very difficult to find evidence of the first time that wine was made.  Even if the presence of grape matter such as seeds, stalks, and skins are discovered at an archaeological site, it does not necessarily mean that wine was produced there.  Scholars finally accepted two methods for identifying the existence of wine production –  the proof of domestic grape vines and also evidence of wine production.

Historically the creation of wine occurred almost simultaneously in Asia and Europe independent of each other, give or take a few thousand years! It is important to noted that scholars did not only search for the evidence of wine production, they also studied the evolutionary progress of the actual grape vine as a very important indicator that wine could be made is the mutation of the vines when they developed hermaphroditic flowers, thus allowing domesticated grapes to self-pollinate.  Self-pollination is a very important part of fruit production.  You may have had the opportunity to drink several different bottles of wine that are made from different grape varieties that co-exist in the same vineyard.   An excellent example of different grape varieties growing side by side in the same vineyard is the vineyards of Corton grand cru in Burgundy which can be made from either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  If plants with non-hermaphroditic flowers grow together they often cross-pollinate.  The beauty of the existence of hermaphroditic flowers is the ability to grow several different varieties of grapes in the same vineyard due to their ability to self-pollinate, which is advantageous for winemakers because they can produce many different wines from an excellent vineyard.

The first evidence of winemaking dates back to 7000-6000 BC in China at the site of Jiahu and the original wine was a combination of grape juice, honey and fruit.  Scientists were unable to narrow down the tartrate of each of the species used in the wine but there is written evidence that grapes were sued as a part of the blend that dates back to around 1046-221 BCE during the Zhou Dynasty, it is not clear however if the grapes were used specifically for the production of wine.

The grapes were native wild grapes that grew in China and there were approximately 40 to 50 different indigenous varieties.  European vines were only introduced to China in the second century BCE.

Concrete evidence of winemaking in Western Asia dates back to 5400 to 5000 BCE during the neolithic period at a site called Hajji Firuz in Iran where archaeologists unearthed around five jars that were nine liters in size that contained sediment of tannin and tartrate crystals.  A further discovery of charred grape skins was also found in Lake Zeriber Iran 5400 BCE as well as in Jurban Höyük in Turkey in the late 6th and early 5th century BCE.

There are records from Dynastic Egypt of wine being imported.  When archaeologists inventoried the tomb of the Scorpion King which dates back to 3150 BCE one of the items that is listed are around 700 jars that are thought to have been filled with wine and shipped to Egypt.

The second instance of the origins of wine comes from ancient Greece where the then wild European grape (Vitis Vinifera) seeds were found in the Franchthi Cave 12000 years ago as well as in France at Balma de l’Abeurador 10000 years ago.  The production of domesticated grapes occurred much later, along the same time period as the historical evidence that was found in China.  Proof of wine production was also found in Armenia as early as 4000 BCE where archaeologists discovered a platform designed for crushing grapes, a method to then transfer the juice into jars as well as possible evidence of the fermentation of red wine.

The Romans are credited with the spread of wine throughout Europe into the Mediterranean region as well as a large portion of Western Europe during the Roman Conquest.  They brought grape vines (mainly Italian varieties) with them and planted them in the countries that they ruled.  It should be noted that during the Roman Conquest wine gained popularity and became valued both as a cultural and economic commodity.  By the end of the first century BCE it became a very important commercial product.

New world wines were created much later.  Historical records show that when the Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson discovered North America in 1000 CE,  he named the new country Vinland or Winland which referred to the many wild grape vines that he found growing there.  When European explorers arrived some six hundred years later it was only logical that they would consider that the new country would have a massive potential for the production of wine.  Unfortunately their optimism was short lived as with exception of the Vitis Rotundifolia and Vitis Lubrusca the other varieties did not produce drinkable wine, even the imported European varieties failed to produce good wine.  For three centuries the winemakers tried unsuccessfully to make wine that was drinkable.  Thankfully despite their continued failures they continued to persist in their belief that wine could be produced in this new world.  Their continued research revealed that only the native varieties could survive against the various indigenous diseases and harsh climate of the east coast of North America which eventually led to successful winemaking in that region.  The big breakthrough in North American winemaking occurred when the settlers moved to California in the mid nineteenth century.  To their delight Vitis Vinifera proliferated in the new climate and successfully produced drinkable wine.   At the start of the beginning of the 20th century winemaking became a very important economic commodity across the country, luckily persistence paid off and the American wine success story began.  Santé!

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure

© 2023 . All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top